Leroy Le Flore is an award-winning artist who lives in
Galveston. He is on the board of directors of the Galveston Art League (visit
www.GalvestonArtLeague.com to learn more about this 107-year-old nonprofit
organization) and sells his artwork in its gallery, 2117A Postoffice St. in
Galveston. His website www.LeroyLeflore.com includes his contact information.
By what criteria do we determine who is an artist? We learn from art history that
in the days of apprenticeships paired to craftsmen, an artist was one who spent
years learning the craft from a master, and this craft was solidly defined. It was a
discipline built upon generations of artists experimenting, developing, and
unlocking the secrets of effective techniques to produce astounding and
magnificent works of art. These days, thanks to our consumer society, free
enterprise, and the leisure time our inventions have provided for us, anyone can
pick up a paintbrush and try his or her hand at producing a work of art.
So by what criteria do we determine who is an artist today? Every person born
has artistic tendencies. We all have a “left side” to our brains. Everyone
possesses some level of artistic discernment. Certainly we have professional
artists who have made a commercial success from their art. And, yes, there are
countless serious amateurs producing a prodigious amount of high-quality art
every day. The full spectrum of who can be called an artist even includes those
who show an aptitude or propensity toward art, whether they create art regularly
or rarely. But are you an artist?
When asking yourself this question, try juxtaposing an artist with a musician. By
musician, I mean someone who is accomplished at playing a musical instrument.
This definition presents the first criterion of determining whether you are an artist:
technical ability. Can you say that your level of applying a medium to a two-
dimensional surface, or capturing an image with photography, or sculpting or
wood carving or firing clay rises to the level of someone who can play a musical
instrument well? Do you tediously produce a melody or does it flow naturally? Do
you nimbly skip across the frets or the keyboard, or are you hesitant, uncertain,
Take a look at your latest creation, and think of what it would sound like if it were
a musical piece. Is it clunky, discordant, or banal? Or is it such a sweet and sad
melody that it sends you into a reverie? Or is it a fanfare or a sonata? Does the
melody stay with you, do you feel the urge to return to it again and again as you
would a popular song? This is the second criteria: the appeal of your creation.
There are all kinds of musicians, as with artists. Let’s look at improvisation.
Improvisation defines the jazz musician. A jazz musician can take a musical
theme and expound upon it, take it apart, revise it, put it back together, and hand
it off to the next musician, unscripted, invented at the moment of playing,
improvising. Can you do that with your art? This would be the equivalent of the
plein air artist. Can you create a loose yet effective quality piece of art on the fly,
improvising, unplanned? Improvisation is the third criteria.
Not every musician is an improvising jazz artist. There are the extremely
accomplished and precise virtuosos, the symphony orchestra members, the
classic flamenco guitarists, the concert pianists, the first violinists, the renowned
classical musicians of the world. They consistently produce music of such a high
quality that few can match it. They have conquered the most difficult aspects of
mastering their instruments. Can you say that of your mastery of any given
medium? Would your level of expertise within a certain medium qualify you as a
member of the symphony orchestra or distinguish you as a solo creator? Mastery
of the medium is the fourth criteria.
So you are a serious artist, work diligently at your art, and are your own worst
critic. You maintain a clear-eyed discernment of your level of ability. And you
know that you’ve got something. It’s what keeps you at it. Best to keep at it and
try harder. That’s what musicians do!